We exchanged several emails to arrange our interview. I’d called a few days earlier but just missed her before the school run…or was that her greeting the fishermen just coming back with their fresh catch? Or the menu writing and food prep for the restaurant? Or an errand for the outside catering side project?
Emily Scott is a busy woman. When her voice came on the line – a chirpy, fond, “hello” – three weeks after our initial introductions, I knew I’d been fortunate to pin her down.
“The thing with me is I’m strong,” she said. “I know exactly what I want to do and of course I’m quite competitive: Right, ok, done that, what can I do next? … even if I’m juggling a lot already.”
Emily Scott is the Head Chef and owner of The Harbour, a small fish restaurant nestled on the cusp of the cove in Port Isaac. The building itself is a glorious relic from the 15th century, which even in an idyllic Cornish village marks it out as a remarkable venue. It’s a cosy, warm little place with an address that couldn’t be any more apt: Number 1 Middle Street.
Along with her partner, Jason Brain, who is the Front of House, Emily has been running The Harbour for the last five years.
“It’s a small restaurant and my menu is short, but I want that to reflect the fact that I make everything … from the aioli to the pastry to the bread to the salad dressings – nothing’s bought in,” Emily said. “The menu is entirely dependent on what the fishermen bring in that day.”
She continued, in a tone you might identify as timid or shy were it not for the palpable ambition and pride that underpinned every word: “There’s only me in the kitchen. I have a second chef that will prepare plates for me and cold starters but I don’t have someone on scallops, another on mains; it’s all…me.”
The food at the restaurant is “simple;” that’s the word she used to describe her whole ethos of cooking to me, but she hates the word “rustic.” Emily said it doesn’t convey how refined her food is…and yet in truth it does have a rustic elegance; a hearty finesse.
For Emily, a good restaurant doesn’t rely on one element but is about the experience as a whole. A restaurant, she believes, is a vehicle for creating life-long food memories and they cannot be formed without the atmosphere and surroundings to complement great food.
“I think you can serve the best food in the world but if your service doesn’t match or if it’s not very comfortable or doesn’t feel right then I think it almost doesn’t matter what comes out of the kitchen. It’s a combination of everything – it’s a bit of theatre.”
It’s important to Emily. Eating good food should be memorable – like the time she ate peaches on the terrace of her French Grandfather’s home in Bagnol as a child.
“I can think of nothing nicer than having a table of people drinking delicious wine and food. It sounds corny but you are making memories for people. I think that’s where my cooking is driven – let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Above all else Emily believes the ingredients must be allowed to shine – “I’m certainly driven by the seasons; you won’t see blackberries on my menu in January or strawberries in December” – the skill of the chef is to merely to enhance them.
“I’m not into foamy sauces and streaks of jus on the plate. Those things have their place, and they’re technically amazing, but I’ve just got to the point where I think, no, I really like what I do. Every day I think maybe I should change something, but…”
She doesn’t finish the sentence. I can only assume that was because she was thinking about making a complicated change to her menu that evening, just because she could. She was thinking about not keeping it simple for a change – about not being…rustic.
Picking the conversation back up a little later she said, “I think you can see that everything we do is with care and attention.”
You can, and it is. Emily Scott doesn’t need to change what she’s doing – every day she creates menus that delight and food that thrills. Simple or not, she is responsible for some of the finest food memories in Cornwall.
Don’t take my word for it, she won Best Chef at the South West Food Magazine’s award ceremony in January. Emily called it an “amazing achievement” but, being the humble woman that she is, said, “it’s a team effort because you’re only as good as the team around you.”
Rarely in a person do you find such modesty paired with an intense competitive fire. You get the impression Emily’s food has matured a great deal over the last three years; she is comfortable with her style of cooking and proud of her achievements. That’s why she’s ready to tell people about them.
What’s next for Emily Scott?
“I’m working on my book at the moment,” she explained. “That’s definitely one of my top goals … It’s been my on-going project for a while but in the last month I’ve sorted out my chapters.”
The book – likely to carry a title along the lines of ‘The Harbour Kitchen Cook Book’ – will be a tour de force of Emily’s food memories, her love of ingredients and some dishes from the restaurant in Port Isaac. It won’t be just a cookbook with recipes and pictures but rather a window into the mind, and heart, of Emily Scott.
She also wants to explore television opportunities – “sometimes I think TV chefs make things look scarier than they are; I’d come at it from a down-to-earth angle” – and she’d also like to share her recipes and ideas in magazine features to show people what her food is about.
She describes these things as being “completely out of my comfort zone.”A few years ago I doubt Emily would have talked about TV and magazines with me but I think now she’s confident enough in her own ability to understand that people want to listen to her.
I told you she was ambitious
Emily and Jason are looking to move on from The Harbour soon and begin a “bigger project … with a bar and outside space.” The trouble with The Harbour is its size. It only has space for around 30 covers and as a result they have to turn many people away. Emily said that they’re looking for a place in the same sort of area of North Cornwall but it will likely be outside of Port Isaac (and not Padstow). I’m curious about how she will cope with being cut off from The Harbour restaurant because it seems so closely aligned with her style of cooking.
“I’ve created an outside catering business – it’s called the Harbour Kitchen. Anything I do in the future will be from the Harbour Kitchen. I won’t lose that.”
Emily runs the Harbour Kitchen with Emma Stephens, who is also the Front of House with Jason in the restaurant. It caters for weddings, of which they’ve had three since April with over 120 guests at each, as well as other smaller functions.
“I thought I didn’t have enough to do so we started doing big weddings! … Tomorrow I’ve got a private dinner party at someone’s house for 25.”
I did mention that she had three small children as well, right?
Emily Scott is a busy woman.
“I’ve been at The Harbour for five years and I feel like I’ve come to a point where I’ve achieved everything I can in that small place.”
Emily Scott is an ambitious chef. Expect big things from her.
Food Heroes Nigel Slater, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from River Cafe, Dan Lepard, Fran Warde and St John’s Bread & Wine.
Food Heaven Strawberries in June (or peaches on a sunny terrace in France)
Food Hell Rice pudding
Emily kindly gave Chef Insight her homemade treacle tart recipe for our 5-in-5 section – 5 ingredients, 5 steps. Take a look and give it a go here.